Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New Semester Starts Tomorrow...

Oh my gosh, I can't believe that the semester starts tomorrow. It is time to get back in the saddle and hit the books once again. I have a fantastic line of classes this semester:

Latin - second semester of the intensive Latin class. We should finish the grammar part of the language this semester and begin extensive reading.

Creator and Creation - Studying the acts and economy of God. This will rely primarily on St. Thomas Aquinas especially the Summa Theologiae First Part questions 14-26, 44-49, 103-104 along with other texts of St. Thomas.

Mystery of the Trinity - basically a combination of two classes. We will extensively cover the teaching of Scripture, the Church Fathers (from St. Ignatius of Antioch to Tertullian to St. Athanasius and others), and the Summa First Part questions 27-43. I am very excited about this one.

Human Acts and the Final End - focused on what the end of our life and and how is it that we come to that end. It is our acting that directs towards or away from our end. We are studying the Summa Second Part of the First Part questions 1-21.

The Gospel of John - Intensive look at the Gospel of John.

Spousal Meaning of the Body - This is a study of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. The instructor, Dr. Waldstein, recently translated and published the work in English.

As you can see, I have a full schedule - 26 credits nearly all directly from St. Thomas. Please pray for me as I try to drink from the fire hose that is the Truth of the Catholic faith!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Website for Biblia Clerus Resource...

I had a reader point out, on my other blog, that the url to the Biblia Clerus leads to a page that is unavailable (find the blog here). I checked the link. The link is the right one, but the page does seem to be down at the moment. Please keep trying. Hopefully, they will have it up soon.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Four Senses - the Literal Sense

In a previous blog (found here), I gave a brief overview of the four senses of Scripture. My intent is to encourage people to read and study the Scriptures by utilizing the four senses so that they may hear God speaking to them and, of course, to deepen our knowledge of Revelation.

Today, I want to examine the literal sense in more detail. The Catechism defines the literal sense thusly:

116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."

St. Thomas defines the literal sense as

[the] first signification whereby words signifies things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. (STh I q1. a10 )

Let me explain. St. Thomas makes the division between the literal and spiritual senses by what exactly is signifying something else. The literal sense is that where the words signify things. This is common usage. When we speak or write, we use words to signify some thing. The spiritual sense, however, is that where things signify other things. St. Thomas states that God, since he is the author of Holy Scripture, can signify what he means not only with words (as we do) but also with the things themselves; indicating the literal and spiritual senses, respectively.

The Catechism makes this clear when it says that the "literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture". This is where exegesis and commentaries come in. It is clear that the sacred writers didn't write in English or with a 21st mind-set. In addition, this is God's word expressed in human words by authentic human authors. Therefore, we must discover the true intention of the sacred author in order to discover the intention of the Holy Spirit.

To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to "literary forms." For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another. (Dei Verbum #12)

The best explanation I've heard is that of a "knock, knock joke". If you were sitting with a friend and they turned to you and said, "Knock, knock". You would naturally reply, "Who's there?" If on the other hand your friend says "Knock" waits for two minutes and says "Knock" again, you wouldn't know what they are trying to do. The reason is that you know the convention of starting a 'knock, knock-joke'. When someone uses those particular words in a particular manner you already know the "form" of the joke and can respond accordingly with the expectation that you will be hearing a joke once you have said "Who's there?" We must learn through historical research what these conventions were that the sacred writers used so we can understand what they are trying to communicate whether that be history, a parable, a proverb, etc. Pope Benedict XVI in the Foreword to his book Jesus of Nazareth states that the Historical-Critical method is "an indispensable dimensions of exegetical work. For it is the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events." However, this does not mean that only those with degrees in Scripture scholarship should read the Bible, or that biblical exegesis is exhausted by the Historical-Critical Method (as is plainly stated by Pope Benedict XVI in the same Foreword to Jesus of Nazareth). We must, however, rely on experts to help us. There is a lot of good work out there and a bunch of bad. One criteria I use is to "ask" the commentary I am using its opinion of miracles. If the author(s) rejects miracles or tries to explain them away, then I know to take it with a grain of salt. Another even better criteria is to ascertain the position of the author(s) towards the Magisterium. If the Church's authority is rejected, then the commentary must be used very carefully. Protestant or Jewish commentaries can be valuable if one realizes their limitations.

Now, we must become students of the Scripture not simply relying on others to tell us what the sacred text means. We must study so as to come to the meaning of the Scriptures ourselves. Now I am not suggesting that we do this unaided. We need the work of experts to supplement our own study, but their work should not substitute for our own! This book, The New Joy of Discovery in Bible Study will be a huge help. It is not a commentary. It is a book that teaches one how to analyze a text and discover what the author is intending. We typically read things so fast that we over-read much of the details and keys that help us understand the Biblical text. This book gives the tools to do such an analysis. Next, one must immerse themselves in the Scriptures reading them and praying them everyday. A key to understanding the Scriptures is to have a intimate relationship with the Triune God (conversely, reading and praying the Scriptures helps bring about this intimacy). The then Cardinal Ratzinger gives us great insight into that fact in his book Behold the Pierced One:

Only by entering into Jesus' solitude, only by participating in what is most personal in him, his communication with the Father, can one see what this most personal reality is; only thus can one penetrate to his identity. This is the only way to understand him and to grasp what "following Jesus" means. The Christian confession is not a neutral proposition; it is prayer, only yielding its meaning within prayer. (pg. 19)

Jesus prayed in the words of Scripture an that Scripture became flesh in him, became the actual Passion of this Righteous One; and that he thus inserted his death into the word of God, in which he lived and which lived in him declaring itself in him. (p. 24)

Since the center of the person of Jesus is prayer, it is essential to participate in his prayer if we are to know and understand him. (p. 25)

To know him we must be in a certain way like him. To know the Scriptures requires knowing him since Christ the Word is the principle, subject, and author of Scripture.

OK, back to the literal sense. St. Thomas identifies four divisions of the literal sense: historical, etiological, the analogy of faith, and metaphorical (or parabolic). (STh I q1.a10.ad2) It is called historical when anything is simply related. This would be the case in much of the Gospels as they are simply relating what happened. That does not mean, however, that the Gospels are a simple reporting of a historical timeline. The Catechism tells us that the Gospel writers

126§3 ...in writing the four Gospels, selected certain of the many elements which had been handed on, either orally or already in written form; others they synthesized or explained with an eye to the situation of the churches, the while sustaining the form of preaching, but always in such a fashion that they have told us the honest truth about Jesus.

The key here being that "they have told us the honest truth about Jesus". It is etiological when the cause is assigned, "as when Our Lord gave the reason why Moses allowed the putting away of wives - namely, because of the hardness of men's hearts (cf. Mt 19:8)" (STh I q1.a10.ad2). It is the analogy of faith when the truth of one text is shown not to contradict the truth of another (cf. CCC #114). Finally, the metaphorical (or parabolical sense)

is contained in the literal, for by the words things are signified properly and figuratively. Nor is the figure itself, but that which is figured, the literal sense. When Scripture speaks of God's arm, the literal sense is not that God has such a member, but only what is signified by this power, namely, operative power. Hence is is plain that nothing false can ever underlie the literal sense of Holy Scripture. (St. Thomas STh I q1.a10.ad3)

Analyzing and determining the literal sense of a Scripture is arduous work. It takes time to wrestle with the text, read the commentaries, look at word meanings, and pray. It is the work of love, and it does bear abundant fruit. I would suggest beginning in the New Testament in one of the Gospels. Oh, one last resource. I have found the Synopsis of the Four Gospels edited by Kurt Aland a tremendous help. He lines up the four Gospels according to subject side by side so one can compare the Gospels easily to one another.

A commenter pointed out that Mark Shea wrote a book concerning the four senses (follow the link. You'll have to scroll down a bit to find it). It is called Making Senses Out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did. I have not read it, but I am sure it is excellent.

Next time, we'll take a look at the Spiritual senses of Scripture.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


We just received a visit from the wise men! In Gaming, (and maybe the rest of Austria) there is a tradition where the wise man come to each house and write their initials and the year above the door. We were fortunate enough to be home today when they visited.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Four Senses of Scripture

There have been several different situations that have converged to make me think a blog on this may be helpful. The Catechism of the Catholic Church #133 states:

The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.

We all want the Lord to speak to us, to encourage us, to tell us that he loves us. He does. He speaks to us through the Scriptures:

Let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for "we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying." (The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum #25 - quoting St. Ambrose.)

The same theme is repeated earlier in Dei Verbum:

For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. (#21, emphasis mine)

Thus, the place that we must turn when seeking the Lord's voice is the Sacred Scriptures approaching them in an attitude of prayer, docility, and careful listening. We must keep in mind what the Scriptures tells us about listening to the Lord's voice:

And he [God] said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before Jehovah. And, behold, Jehovah passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before Jehovah; but Jehovah was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but Jehovah was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but Jehovah was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave... 1 Kings 19:11-13a

This "still small voice" can only be heard through perseverance, silence, and listening. We don't hear God with our ears; we hear him with our heart. Listening to God requires faith and a sensitivity to the Spirit that must be cultivated through prayer. It also demands docility to what God wants to say not necessarily what we want to hear. I know in my own life that there were many times I claimed that the Lord wasn't speaking to me. The fact was he was telling me what I needed to hear rather than what I wanted to hear. I just didn't want to hear. There have been, however, a multitude of times where he has deeply consoled me with the exact words I needed to hear through the Scriptures, other spiritual books, homilies, or loved ones. The Lord has even spoken directly to my heart but never to my ears. We learn to discern to hear the lord's voice in other places through hearing his voice in the Scriptures.

It is clear, then, that we must steep ourselves in the Holy Writ, but how to start? There are many resources available to study the Scriptures. However, it can be difficult to find a good Catholic commentaries (the Ignatius Study Bibles and the Navarre Bible are excellent, although no commentary is complete). In these next blogs, I would like to discuss the Four Senses of Scripture as one means of penetrating the Biblical text. The Sacred Scriptures are not just for a few elite linguists to understand. The Lord intended it for all. St. Thomas indicates it thusly:

It is thus that the sacred text not only adapts itself to man's various intelligence, so that each one marvels to finds his thoughts expressed in the words of Holy Writ...(St. Thomas Aquinas On the Power of God question 4 article 1)

It is also befitting Holy Scripture which is proposed to all without distinction of persons - to the wise and to the unwise I am a debtor (Rom 1:14) - that spiritual truths be expounded by means of figures taken from corporeal things, in order that thereby even the simple who are unable by themselves to grasp intellectual things may be able to understand it. (St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae I question 1 article 9.

All of us can understand the Scriptures. We first need to pray for the assistance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit and then roll up our sleeves and dig in! The four senses help us in this regard.

The four senses can be divided into the literal and spiritual sense. The literal sense can be defined as 'what the words themselves signify', whereas the spiritual sense is the 'things themselves signifying other things'. (cf. St. Thomas Summa I q1. a10) The spiritual sense can then be divided into three: allegorical (or typical), moral (or tropological), and anagogical. For a simple definition of each nothing is better than the Catechism.

The senses of Scripture

115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."

117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's victory and also of Christian Baptism.

2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our instruction".

3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading"). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.

118 A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:

The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.
119 "It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgement. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God."
But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.

Next time, we'll define the literal sense in more detail, examine the four different literal senses, and see examples for them. One of the important things here is not to be afraid or intimidated. Seek the assistance of the Holy Spirit and dive in!


I can't believe that my little girl is as tall as her mom and now 14 as of 12/30!! Time surely flies by. She is a tremendous blessing in our lives. She is an excellent student and such a help with the baby. She is a fantastic cook, also! These are precious times...

The Lee "Bookends" (for the time being anyway ;-))

The Demonstration of the 14 year-old "Eye Roll". She has it perfected as you can see... :-)

Daddy's Little Princess...

We love you Felicity!! We are so proud of the young woman you have become!

The Kartause Kids' Production of Dickens' A Christmas Carol...

We had the pleasure of attending a production of Dickens' A Christmas Carol on New Year's Eve performed by the children of the Kartause community. Felicity, Cody, and Zach all participated. It was amazing how well everyone of the kids performed. It was superb!! Felicity was Bob Cratchit's wife; Cody was Fezziwig and the man seeking charity for the poor; and Zach was Tiny Tim. Please enjoy the photos and the video of Cody's dancing debut!!

The Cast of Lees

Tiny Tim and Ebenezer (James Thompson)

The Lovely Mrs. Cratchit.